Another Bird Named Swainson’s | Outside My Window


Swainson’s warbler (photo by Bettina Arrigoni via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve seen the Swainson’s thrush and Swainson’s hawk. My goal last weekend was to hear and see a Swainson’s warbler.

Like the other two birds the Swainson’s warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) was named for English ornithologist William J. Swainson (1789-1855) but unlike them he’s hard to find.

To begin with, Swainson’s warblers don’t breed in Pennsylvania. The northernmost corner of their range is a 3.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh. Three of us went to New River Gorge, West Virginia.

Range map of Swainson’s warbler (from Wikimedia Commons)

We found his breeding habitat …

Breeds in southern forests with thick undergrowth, especially canebrakes and floodplain forests in lowlands and rhododendron-mountain laurel in the Appalachians.

from species account at All About Birds

… and stood quietly in a rhododendron thicket where he’s known to breed. We listened for this.

Listening is important. Swainson’s warblers skulk in shadowy, deep thickets and are rarely seen.

We heard one (“He’s in there!”) but he never came out.

Fortunately listening counts.

(photos and maps from Wikimedia Commons, sound from Xeno Canto; click on the captions to see the originals)

p.s. Here’s how thick the rhododendrons are in West Virginia, in a blog post by Samuel Taylor.